Special Report: tourism conference takeaways from Malaysia to Mexico

One big reason that we’ve put so much of our collective knowledge into online education in social media is because we want it to be accessible (and affordable) to any tourism or hospitality pro in the world who needs it.

Dr. Ng Yen Yen, Malaysia's Minister of Tourism, opens the MITBCA 2012 conference in Kuala Lumpur (photo courtesy MITBCA on Facebook)The last few weeks of whirlwind international travel have cemented our conviction that the social web can do a pretty spectacular job of connecting destinations, lodging and visitors across the boundaries of geography, language and time zones….and that travel enthusiasts everywhere are a fun bunch who refuse to be laid low by jet lag!

Here are some of the highlights and takeaways that we brought back from two international events:

**  The MITBCA (Malaysia International Bloggers Conference and Awards) 2012 in Kuala Lumpur, a first-ever blogging event hosted by the Ministry of Tourism, Malaysia, where Sheila represented Tourism Currents as a keynote speaker, and….

**  The WTTC (World Travel & Tourism Council) Americas Summit 2012, the inaugural WTTC regional tourism conference held in Mexico’s Riviera Maya region, where Leslie and Sheila were invited to attend as media.

News You Can Use – MITBCA Malaysia

The Malaysian Minister of Tourism herself, YB Dato’ Sri Dr. Ng Yen Yen, was determined to get bloggers and tourism/hospitality people talking to each other and learning from one another. She also brought in students from local tourism college classes to attend and take notes. The number of new and newly-active attendees on Twitter skyrocketed over the two-day period, all chattering with each other and their networks via the #MITBCA2012 hashtag.

Four thoughts:

1)  When interest in and understanding of social media start at the top with the boss, the rest of the train moves along a lot faster.

2)  Offline events can kick-start plenty of continuing online relationships. Make them happen. Get people in the same room.

3)  Don’t forget what conference speakers can do for you. Many MITBCA speakers were making their first visit to Malaysia (Sheila included.)  Since they were already active and engaged online in their home countries AND worldwide, many new audiences learned about Malaysia and about Kuala Lumpur. Connect with speakers before they arrive at a conference, suggest some itineraries and support their personal tourist activities; it may well result in additional coverage of your destination.

4)  Your local bloggers can be powerful advocates for your area. Many have extensive networks, online and off. Know your local bloggers like you know your local reporters. Several MITBCA speakers and attendees were based in Kuala Lumpur or elsewhere in Malaysia, but had never had a chance to connect with each other, much less meet key people from Tourism Malaysia.

MITBCA 2012 speakers with the Malaysian Minister of Tourism (courtesy Malaysia Truly Asia on Facebook)Is there any reason you can’t pull together a quick get-together event for your area or regional bloggers, and get your members and partners there, too?

Exactly.

The presentations were all packed with info, but here are a few MITBCA slide decks that may be of particular interest:

—>>  Abdul Khani Daud, Director of Advertising for Tourism Malaysia explained online/offline marketing integration for Tourism Malaysia.

—>>  Dr. Mridula Dwivedi from India had interesting info on the use of social media by National Tourism Organizations (NTOs).

—>>  James Craven from Hybrid News and AsianCorrespondent.com discussed how to engage with trend-setters in Travel & Leisure.

—>>  Iman Brotoseno  presented an Indonesian case study on blogging and social media (an enormous market in travel and tourism).

Here are all of the MITBCA 2012 speaker presentations.

Sheila wrote an MITBCA 2012 summary blog post that includes links to other wrap-up posts and thoughts from both speakers and attendees.

News You Can Use – WTTC Americas Summit in Mexico

Tourism Currents covering the WTTC 2012 Americas Summit in Riviera Maya, MexicoThe World Travel & Tourism Council‘s inaugural regional summit for the Americas was an impressive gathering of travel company CEOs, tourism ministers, hospitality industry leaders, movers and shakers like Mexican businessman Carlos Slim, UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai and even a star turn by actor/director/environmentalist Robert Redford.  The event was opened by Mexico’s President, Felipe Calderón and closed by World Travel & Tourism Council President and CEO David Scowsill plus Mexico Secretary of Tourism Gloria Guevera Manzo.

So, yes, rather heady company for Leslie and Sheila. We tried not to swoon too much at Mr. Redford. 🙂

These were high-level presentations, with only two panels specifically on technology/social media and marketing, but here are four takeaways:

1)  Visa hassles are a significant barrier to the sort of travel that could bring tremendous economic benefit;  over five million jobs could be created in G20 economies by 2015 if nations would ease the visa process for the world’s fastest growing source markets. WTTC and UNWTO research indicates that millions of potential tourists are discouraged by the the cost, waiting time and difficulty of getting visas….note that Chinese who wish to visit the US must wait up to 60 days for their visa because, for one thing, there are only five US consulates in all of China that can process visas. That’s a crazy way to treat such a huge potential market.

Telecommunications executive (and part owner of the New York Times Company) Carlos Slim said in a WTTC interview that “[Customs and Immigrations at airports] should not [be] this environment where you feel like you’re coming to an insecure place….[It should be] a warm welcome, not only when you go to the airport, but at the hotel. Immigrations officers and customs [officials] must have this relationship with the ministry of tourism, and bring a friendly aspect [to travel].”

Michele McKenzie, President and CEO of the Canadian Tourism Commission, pointed out that “Visa problems and other barriers to travel can destroy our best marketing efforts.”

As a result of work at WTTC Americas, the visa issue and tourism barriers will, for the first time, be a significant topic of discussion when the G20 leaders meet in Cabo San Lucas June 18 – 19, 2012.

2)  The whole travel experience needs to be enjoyable for the visitor, from research to booking to the entire trip itself. Don’t myopically focus on only one aspect or two of that continuum, and don’t get so wrapped up in marketing that you forget visitors once they’re actually in your destination. Tourism organizations can help enrich that visit with initiatives like the Barbados Home Accommodation program that connects visitors and locals for a more authentic experience.

Said Virtuoso CEO Matthew Upchurch,

“Brand engagement isn’t just about getting them there; it’s also their experience once they’re there.”

3)  Word of mouth and UGC (User-Generated Content, a particularly noxious buzzword) are increasingly important even for big national tourism entities.

A unique example: candid video testimonials like those in the Mexico Taxi Project.

4)  SoLoMo – Social, Local and Mobile = success in selling travel now and increasingly in the future.

And finally, some of our favorite words of wisdom from Robert Redford’s WTTC interview with Ogilvy PR Global CEO Chris Graves, about the advice that he’d give his 21-year-old Redford self….

“Don’t worry about your hair.”

Robert Redford at WTTC 2012 Americas Summit (courtesy World Travel and Tourism Council on Flickr CC)

Looking to put your destination “on the map?”  Tourism Currents provides online and in-person social media training specifically for destination marketing organizations and their members or partners. Whether you’re a Convention and Visitors Bureau, Chamber of Commerce, Resort Association or regional tourism organization, we work with you to effectively integrate social media into your existing marketing plan. Here’s more information about us, and here’s our online Store with a variety of training offerings to suit your needs. 

Thanks!   Becky McCray, Sheila Scarborough and Leslie McLellan

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